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The Vocabula Review

A society is generally as lax as its language.



Even today — subjected as we are to the apotheosis of popular culture — using the English language respectfully helps us maintain a sense of ourselves and our values. To do otherwise, to disregard the ways of our words, is to forsake our humanity and, perhaps, even forfeit our future. A society is generally as lax as its language. And in a society of this sort, easiness and mediocrity are much esteemed.



Coming in the August issue of The Vocabula Review: "Stamp Out Fadspeak!" by Richard Lederer

May TVR endure and prevail. — Richard Lederer

Richard Lederer is the author of more than 2,000 books and articles about language and humor, including his bestselling Anguished English and his current book, Sleeping Dogs Don't Lay, a Book-of-the-Month Club selection. This fall St. Martin's Press will publish Lederer's The Bride of Anguished English. Dr. Lederer's syndicated column, "Looking at Language," appears in newspapers and magazines throughout the United States.



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The Vocabula Review (TVR) is published on the third Tuesday of each month. If you prefer reading TVR as email — or wish to receive an announcement of each new online issue — click here. To read the journal archives, click on the date below:

July 2000, Vol. 2, No. 7 Robert Hartwell Fiske, Editor, editor@vocabula.com

Bottle That Punaphor Joseph Epstein

Aristotle, in The Rhetoric, describes the metaphor as the joining of dissimilars to show their similarity. He offers a number of examples from Homer, the franchise player of Greek literature, at one point noting his choice of the dawn as "rosy-fingered" as so much better than "crimson-fingered" or, worse, "red-fingered." Metaphor, Aristotle thought, "gives style, clearness, charm, and distinction [to speech and writing] as nothing else can." He also thought that, like the gift of a good singing voice or of swiftness afoot, metaphor making "is not a thing whose use can be taught by one man to another." He neglected to add that, for your jollily perverse pedant (hey, Bo, that's me!), a really dopey metaphor can light up the sky. More ...

Words That Stab Like a Sword Pamela Jones

"There exists the one speaking thoughtlessly as with the stabs of a sword, but the tongue of the wise ones is a healing." — Proverbs 12:18, New World Translation, 1984.

"There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but the tongue of the wise is health." — Proverbs 12:18, King James Version, 1611.

Words change over time. We don't speak the way they did in Shakespeare's day. Reading Chaucer today, or Spenser's The Faerie Queene, we need footnotes to fully understand, though they wrote in English. More ...

Grumbling About Grammar

Although few people can complain of another's grammatical mistakes with impunity, that is, without revealing their own, I am hopeful that "Grumbling About Grammar" will encourage us all to pay more heed to how the language is used — by ourselves as well as by others — while bettering our ability to speak and write it. The grammatical errors that I have assembled here come from publications like The New York Times, Wired, TV Guide, and Martha Stewart Living. Others come from websites like Salon.com and Winmag.com. And still others from TV newscasters, politicians, and businesspeople. These are the people we so often read and listen to — whether or not we care to. Woefully, it is not Edith Wharton or Henry James from whom we learn to speak and write the language; rather, it is these sometime purveyors of confused, misused, and abused language.

anxious Misused for eager. • The Buffalo Sabres are anxious to get rookie Maxim Afinogenov back for the American Hockey League playoffs following Russia's elimination at the World Hockey Championships. USE eager. [Canada Sports: http://sports.excite.ca/nhl/news] • The 50 people whose lives were changed when fire ravaged their homes at the Maryel Manor senior housing complex two months ago are anxious for things to return to the way they used to be. USE eager. [Broomfield News: http://www.broomfieldnews.com]

Anxious is best reserved for feelings of dread, apprehension, or uneasiness; let's not use it as a synonym for eager. More ...

The Grumbling About Grammar Awards (GAGAs)

1. When did opportunism become a bad word. — Darva Conger on the television program 48 Hours

Though illustrating no grammatical blunder, this astonishing statement reveals how little we know the meaning of the words we use or, even more disturbing, how little meaning matters. More ...

Elegant English

We all know far too well how to write everyday English, but few of us know how to write elegant English — English that is expressed with music as well as meaning, style as well as substance. The point of this feature is not to suggest that people should try to emulate these examples of elegant English but to show that the language can be written with grace and polish — qualities that much contemporary writing is bereft of and could benefit from.

1. Comedy and tragedy step through life together, arm in arm, all along, out along, down along lea. — Sean O'Casey, The Power of Laughter: Weapon Against Evil More ...

On Dimwitticisms

Whereas a witticism is a clever remark or phrase — indeed, the height of expression — a "dimwitticism" is the converse; it is a commonplace remark or phrase. Dimwitticisms are worn-out words and phrases; they are expressions that dull our reason and dim our insight, formulas that we rely on when we are too lazy to express what we think or even to discover how we feel. The more we use them, the more we conform — in thought and feeling — to everyone else who uses them.

humongous This is a word for buffoons. Any businessperson or politician who uses humongous, when a word like huge or monstrous will do, imperils his professionalism. • My appetite was humongous. USE enormous. • We were up against a humongous insurance company. USE colossal. • My feeling is that there is a humongous gap between justice for the rich and the poor and working class. USE huge. • The players should recognize the exception for what it is: a humongous bargaining chip. USE titanic. More ...

Clues to Concise Writing

Words often ill serve their purpose. When they do their work badly, words militate against us. Poor grammar, sloppy syntax, misused words, misspelled words, and other infelicities of style impede communication and advance only misunderstanding. But there is another, perhaps less well-known, obstacle to effective communication: too many words.

obviate the necessity (need) for (of; to) obviate (-ing). • Of course, an awareness of this uncertainty doesn't obviate the need to make decisions based on your best guess about what the future holds. Of course, an awareness of this uncertainty doesn't obviate making decisions based on your best guess about what the future holds. • NAS 4 and its support for Enterprise Java Beans obviates the need for the solution proposed in this chapter. NAS 4 and its support for Enterprise Java Beans obviates the solution proposed in this chapter. • The Active Directory support obviates the need to register a component locally for use on a remote server. The Active Directory support obviates registering a component locally for use on a remote server. More ...

Scarcely Used Words

Inadequate though they may be, words distinguish us from all other living things. Indeed, our worth is partly in our words. Effective use of language — clear writing and speaking — is a measure of our humanness. What's more, the more words we know and can correctly use, the broader will be our understanding of self, the keener our acquaintance with humankind.

callipygian (kal-ah-PIJ-ee-en) adj. having beautifully shaped buttocks. More ...

Oddments and Miscellanea

Each month, "Oddments and Miscellanea" will focus on a particular matter of faulty grammar or slipshod syntax. This month's admonition:

Do not use a hyphen after adverbs ending in ly. More ...

On the Bookshelf

Among the best written, if least read, books are those that I will be featuring each month in "On the Bookshelf." No book club selections, no best-selling authors are likely to be spoken of here. Best-selling authors, of course, are often responsible for the worst written books.

Max Beerbohm: Zuleika Dobson More ...

Features

•  Grumbling About Grammar

•  The Grumbling About Grammar Awards (GAGAs)

•  Elegant English

•  On Dimwitticisms

•  Clues to Concise Writing

•  Scarcely Used Words

•  Oddments and Miscellanea

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•  Letters to the Editor

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July's TVR Poll results: Do you approve of the words "dis" and "dissing"?

• No, they are loathsome "words": 31%
• I don't much like them: 18%
• I don't care whether people use them or not: 2%
• They are interesting additions to the lexicon: 25%
• Yes, I approve: 5%
• I myself use them, and gleefully: 19%



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